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Essay on Relationship Between Human Nature and Cruelty

4 pages
892 words
Sewanee University of the South
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Human beings are undoubtedly the most intelligent of the animals in the world. The human intelligence is characterized by the ability to reason out and come up with solutions for everyday problems. Further, human beings are known to possess factors such as creativity, imaginativeness, rebelliousness or spirituality all which define their nature. However, in spite of the ability to perform independently human beings behavior is influenced by various external factors which makes them appear cruel.

How circumstances affect behavior

In The perils of obedience by Milgram for instance, the author highlights a psychology laboratory experiment which was aimed at determining a teacher-learner experience under certain circumstances. The experiment reveals how individuals strive to please the authority an aspect which renders them unable to have proper control over their actions. Gretchen Brandt for instance proceeds with the electrocution of the student in spite of the fact that he was suffering and in anguish. However, the obvious conclusion made by this experiment may be misleading. As indicated in the following excerpt on several occasions when the learner complaints, she turns to the experimenter coolly and inquires shall I continue? (Milgram 62). The fact that Brandt who was the subject mentioned in this case sought the approval of the experimenter implies that she had shifted the responsibility for any injury and moral effect to the experimenter. The ability to change blame, therefore, provided the subject with immunity against all liability for damages and suffering caused to the learner.

A similar point of view is reflected In the Unlikely Event of Water Landing by Slater in the case of Catherine Genovese. According to Slater Genovese died in cold blood without any intervention from the neighbors in spite of the repeated calls for help and screams. As highlighted in this statement dabs of yellow both Catherine and Winston must have seen, so there and yet so absent (Slater 96), the neighbors were aware of the commotion and the activities which were taking place. However, the neighbors failed to take any measure hence allowing Winston to commit the murder. Renee perceived the behavior of the witnesses as being due to affect denial. In other words, the neighbors were shocked to the extent that they could not offer any help to the victim. The analysis is however inclusive as there are other factors in play in such instances. The smoke test experiment revealed that people tend to act differently when in crowds as opposed to when they are alone. As stated Each time, the subject looked alarmed, looked at the smoke going from wisp to waft, looked at the calm confederates, and then, clearly confused, went back to filling out the questionnaire(Slater 104). As reflected in the above excerpt, the subject could not take any measure to evade the impending danger. Apparently, he or she doubted their instincts since the confederates who were also within the same room seemed calm. The above-highlighted phenomenon reflected the fact that individuals tend to take no action especially when the other individuals in the crowd look relaxed. If the said individuals were confronted with a situation where they were to offer help, therefore, it would have been likely that they would not have taken any action. This scenario is attributed to the fact that the individuals are likely to doubt their instincts when placed in a crowd as opposed to when they are alone.

Social cue highlighted by Slater provides another explanation for the heightened likelihood of individuals in a crowd behaving in a seemingly cruel manner. In the experiment indicated by the author, congregants in a church are likely to give offerings when the basket is not empty. Slater states I noticed that the basket, before reaching the first person in the first pew, was already mysteriously plied with a flurry of folded dollar bills (Slater 105). Apparently, people are motivated by others actions that is why the congregants gave offerings when they noticed that there were notes in the basket.

Cruelty and human behavior

Human beings can behave cruelly due to different factors. As indicated in the instances mentioned above, individuals gain their motivation to act in a certain way from other individuals. In other words, human behavior is externally motivated by circumstances. For instance being in a crowd heightens the likelihood of one offering help to someone in need as opposed to when they are alone. In such a situation the individuals may be perceived as being cruel when in the real sense they are affected by factors such as social cue. The case of Catherine provides a perfect example where social signal restricts individuals ability of offering help. Ostensibly, the 39 witnesses of Catherines murder may be perceived as having been cruel due to their inability to offer support, but that may not be a fair judgment of the prevailing circumstances. When viewed from an angle of social cue it is clear that the witnesses could not have provided help even if they were willing. Therefore it can be concluded that human behavior is affected by external aspects which implies that it should not be judged as being cruel when one fails to offer help.

Works cited

Milgram, Stanley. "The perils of obedience." Harpers Magazine 12.6. 1973.

Slater, Lauren. In the Unlikely Event of Water Landing: Darley and Latanes Training manual- A five-stage approach. Opening Skinner's box: Great psychological experiments of the twentieth century. WW Norton & Company, 2005.

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